ultra-finisher

What does it mean to be prepared

My husband is an ultra athlete. He has run 5 ultra marathons in the past 12 months, and done thousands of miles of training for said ultras. He has researched gear, bought accordingly, been consistent with sports therapy, chiropractic, physio, and done all that he can to prepare for those big races. And so, with us in tow, we went to Lethbridge this past weekend to watch him race his biggest ultra marathon to date, the lost soul ultra (100km race). Finishing with just 12 minutes to spare, for a total trail time of 20 hours and 48 minutes. Vince became an ultra marathon 100km finisher.

My role in this has always been to be supportive. In any way that I can. And during the race, I am his race crew. Meaning that I refill his water bottles, and tell him he’s looking strong all the while watching the clock for cut off times, refuel him with food, and give him blister pads when he needs them. This race was different for me. I felt very unprepared for a few reasons, and I find myself doubting how much I actually helped this time. I definitely could have done more to prepare, but I also have to realize that life continues on as we prepare for the big races.  

Preparing is just as much a mental game. And this time, I cracked a little bit. I thought I had lost 2 of the running flask straws, which Vince needed to run with. I tore my vehicle and our race bins apart 3 times, I went to headquarters lost and found twice, and I let this small mishap get in the way of being the best support crew that I could. I also thought he was way more annoyed with it than he actually was. And after the race, we chatted about it. What I saw and heard was much different than what he saw and heard. In the end, it turned out that Vince actually had them in his running vest tucked into the back. For over 30 kms I stressed myself out looking for them, and he wasn’t worried at all. I think it was the anxiety of the day for me, and worrying about flask lid straws was just the way I let it out. I’m not sure I was as mentally prepared for this race as I thought I was. As a spouse, it’s hard to watch the suffering that takes place and so maybe this little distraction of lost flask straws was my way to cope.

No matter how much we prepare, be ready for the unexpected. There were time cutoffs for this race, and I didn’t pay much attention to them until it was almost too late. That is my fault, and part of my anxiety coming into the race. Once I sat still long enough to realize, ‘holy shit, we’re going to be close’ it was a whole new race. Vince’s last 50kms was way faster than his first 50kms and that was in part due to those cutoffs. It was a humbling experience to have to text him at 2 kms out of a checkpoint at 2:30am and say, 

“You have 30 minutes to get to this checkpoint and on the trail again or you won’t make the cutoff.”

That was new information for us, the cutoff times included the transition time. And that means that the racer has to be into the aid station and back out again. 

In Vince’s previous race which was 83.3kms, he had 4 hours and 15 minutes of non moving time. And for this race, 101.1kms, he had 1 hour and 4 minutes of non moving time. Safe to say that we worked on keeping the aid station stops very tight. There was no time to sit and talk about anything, he swapped out water flasks, grabbed some watermelon, and was on the trail again. Usually in 5 or 6 minutes. He didn’t change socks, or shoes. There just wasn’t time. Again, very different from previous races. This was also part of the reason we didn’t notice the missing flask straw lids in his pack. A side note: he was carrying an extra 3 or 4 lbs of water that he didn’t need to. We would have caught that if he had more transition time.

Part of being prepared is to commit to staying neutral. This is all Trevor Moawad’s work, and it’s something that Vince and I try to live by day to day. I am not as good at it, I have to really work at not over-reacting, and just be in the moment. At some point in this big race, there wasn’t much we could do to make it better. But there were a lot of things we could do to make it a whole lot worse. And so, I just tried to stay neutral. 

Could I have been more prepared? Yes. 
Was dwelling on that going to help in the moment? No. 
Did I know that cutoff times were a real threat to not finishing? Yes. 
Did I dwell on it with Vince and add even more stress to the race? No. 

In my head I had a lot of back and forth, but I didn’t verbalize any of it. 
Except for those damn running flask straw lids. I verbalized that one, and it didn’t help at all. Looking back, I should have stayed neutral with that as well. Misplacing the lids was just that. A misplaced lid, not a malicious act that was intentional. My brain took over, and even with everything I know about it, it happened. The best I can do learn from it and move on.

After it was all said and done, Vince completed in the time allotted and is now officially a 100km Ultra Marathon finisher. And we learned a lot along the way, things that will help next time with the race, and with life in general. Because learning lessons from this race can absolutely be applied to every day life.

I’m very proud of Vince, his pure mental and physical strength is what ran him over that finish line. And it’s what kept him on that trail for 20 hours and 48 minutes. Once he crossed that finish line, all of the anxieties went away. What was I worried about anyhow. We had 12 minutes to spare. 

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